Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 3, 2013

For Cuba's traveling dissidents, an anxious return

Will Castro opponents face retaliation back home?

HAVANA, Cuba — Taking full advantage of their new license to travel
abroad, Cuba's leading dissidents have been on a whirlwind campaign in
recent weeks, denouncing President Raul Castro's government on three
continents and promising new tactics to challenge its 53-year rule.

Now the question is: What happens when they return home?

Famed blogger Yoani Sanchez says she plans to launch a new media company
after completing her 80-day trip through Latin America, the United
States and Europe. Activist Eliecer Avila wants to form a political
party to "negotiate" with the government. Another opposition figure,
Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, has vowed to continue going abroad
to "seek solidarity" for her cause.

But even if the Castro government is allowing dissidents to travel,
speak freely and raise money abroad, there's little to indicate that a
warm reception awaits them at home. Many observers will be watching to
see if the activists face retaliatory measures from Cuban authorities,
particularly if they attempt to launch new political organizations or

The first activist to return will be Rosa Maria Paya, whose father
Oswaldo Paya was killed in a car crash last July. She has spent the past
several weeks lobbying for an international investigation into the
crash, alleging that the government played a role in her father's death
and has orchestrated a sinister cover-up since then.

Angel Carromero, the Spanish politician who was the driver in the fatal
crash, was convicted in Cuba last year of what amounts to involuntary
manslaughter, then allowed to return to Spain and serve his four-year
prison sentence at home. But after meeting with Paya in Spain, he
changed his story, telling an interviewer that Cuban government agents
were indeed to blame for the crash.

Carromero has not filed an appeal to his conviction, nor repeated his
accusations elsewhere in public. But if the goal of Paya's trip was to
put pressure on the Cuban government and raise doubts about the
circumstances of the crash, she was successful.

Paya's daughter took her campaign to the United Nations Human Rights
Commission in Geneva, petitioning for an investigation, despite
objections from Cuba and several of its allies. A bipartisan group of US
senators have backed her, and Paya was also received by sympathetic
audiences at the European Parliament in Brussels.

"My goal was to bring together all the support and solidarity and begin
to channel it into something that can be more effective," she told the
Spanish news agency EFE, saying she would return to Havana in a matter
of days. "In that sense, I'm more or less satisfied, even though I won't
be completely content until there is an international investigation and
we obtain our rights in Cuba."

Cuba may attempt to punish Paya and other critics when they return, but
by allowing them to travel and meet face-to-face with foreign
politicians, newspaper editors and activist groups, any retaliatory
measures would probably raise an even greater international outcry.

There has been no indication that the government will try to block the
dissidents from coming home. But when blogger Yoani Sanchez was asked
what she would do if her return were barred, she said she would be "the
first person to board a raft to get back into Cuba."

More from GlobalPost: In the shadow of El Comandante

During stops in Brazil, Mexico and New York, Sanchez faced groups of
hostile protesters who tried to disrupt her events and prevent her from
speaking. But the boorish behavior only seemed to garner more support
for Sanchez, even among groups which might otherwise be sympathetic to
Cuba's government but were disturbed by the sight of hecklers trying to
prevent her from speaking freely.

Less clear is how successful she may be with plans to start a media
company back home. Although her blog is no longer censored by the
government, Sanchez has faced rough treatment when she has tried to take
her activism beyond her blog.

Sanchez's trip has also given the authorities new ammunition for their
caricature of her as a tool of foreign interests, as she has met in
Washington and Miami with anti-Castro militants and Cuban-American
politicians who oppose any easing of the US embargo.

But Sanchez has also used her megaphone to criticize the 50-year-old
trade sanctions against Cuba, urging greater engagement with the island,
not continued isolation.

Speaking at Miami's Freedom Tower on Monday, Sanchez asked Cuban exiles
to move past the political divisions that have long split families and
served as a kind of tropical Berlin Wall "made not of concrete nor
brick, but of lies, silence and ill will."

"In the Cuba that many of us dream of it won't be necessary to clarify
what type of Cuban you are," she said. "We'll just be Cubans, period." Continue reading
If They're Serious About Saving / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 2, 2013

The country's leading authorities continually talk about the need to
save resources and use the limited ones that are available for important
issues, to support development and help in solving the many existing
problems and overcoming the shortages. Undoubtedly, it is a fair demand,
but it would be even more so, if they looked within themselves, and
decided to save on those government activities that represent large
expenditures and provide no wealth.

I am referring to the high subsidies enjoyed by the so-called mass
organizations (CDR, FMC, CTC, ANAP, FEU, FEEM and others)*, institutions
that present themselves as NGOs, but are, in fact, far from it; they are
organized, directed and primarily funded by the State and solidarity
groups abroad and while visiting Cuba; in addition there are some
political campaigns, including that for "The Five**" (with the current
adaptation of a mansion in El Vedado*** for its headquarters), payment
of attorneys and multiple trips around the world for their families.

If they reduced the inflated payrolls of professional staff of these
organizations, groups and campaigns, we would see a substantial savings
in salaries, travel and maintenance, along with the great amount of free
transport, housing and locales (usually the best), in municipalities as
well as and in the provinces, helping to increase the housing stock to
the public.

These measures don't need commissions nor long studies and experiments
for their implementation, as the sad reality already one of general
control. If these savings also include major political organizations and
some super-ministries, which enjoy carte blanche to own vehicles of all
types, buildings, homes and locales (often underutilized), the results
would be even greater and would be approved by the majority of citizens.

That is, if you really want to save, there is enough fabric available to
cut within the State, without trying to apply them only to ordinary
Cubans, demanding greater sacrifices.

Translator's notes:
*All of these organizations are arms of the government: CDR =Committees
for the Defense of the Revolution (the block watch groups); FMC =
Federation of Cuban Women; CTC = Cuban Workers Union; ANAP = National
Association of Small Farmers ; FEU = Federation of University Students;
FEEM = Federation of High School Students.

**"The Five" refers to five Cubans found guilty of spying in the United
States. Four of the five remain in prison. The Cuban government
presents them as national heroes unjustly convicted.

***El Vedado is one of the nicer neighborhoods in Havana.

30 March 2013 Continue reading
Cuba's dissidents go abroad

Will the Cuban government pay a price, or benefit, by finally letting
Castro opponents travel?

HAVANA, Cuba — For most of the past 50 years, the Cuban government has
had a straightforward strategy for keeping opposition activists from
spreading their criticism abroad and linking up to international

It wouldn't let them leave.

By blocking dissidents from traveling, the Castro government could
punish their activism and limit the unflattering things they might tell
foreign audiences about life under tropical socialism.

Over the decades, countless speaking invitations for Cuban dissidents
from universities and foreign parliaments went unfulfilled. Awards were
never picked up. Prize money went uncollected.

Now many of those activists are packing their bags. Following the broad
travel liberalization implemented last month by President Raul Castro,
some of Cuba's best-known opposition figures have been told they're free
to go — and return.

Most notably, dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has embarked an 80-day
tour of Latin America, Europe and the United States, with stops in New
York City, Washington, DC, and Miami. The 37-year-old creator of the
blog Generation Y is also planning to visit the offices of Twitter,
Google and Facebook.

Sanchez says Cuban authorities have denied her permission to leave more
than 20 times over the past five years, but finally issued her a
passport at the end of January. She boarded a flight Sunday evening from
Havana to Brazil via Panama.

"The Cuban government shouldn't even dream that I won't come back!" she
told her more than 400,000 Twitter followers over the weekend. "My
grandchildren will be born on this island, they'll bury me at the base
of a tree so I can live on!"

Now the question is: Will the trips abroad by Sanchez and other Cuban
dissidents further damage Castro's image abroad? Or will the very fact
that government opponents like Sanchez are traveling send the message
that Cuba is softening, opening up, and becoming more tolerant?

"In some sense, the government is attempting to convert its harshest and
most eloquent critics into its best ambassadors for the reality of the
changes taking place on the island, especially as related to its
migration reforms," said Ted Henken, a professor at Baruch College who
is organizing events for Sanchez in New York City. "If they can travel,
things must be changing no matter what they say while abroad," he said.

But Henken said Sanchez will be able to gain new supporters around the
world as she travels, aiding her cause of "internal, civic and
non-violent struggle in Cuba," he said.

"This may be the unintended consequence and Achilles' heel of the
government's very positive, if calculated, decision to allow her to
travel," added Henken, who is also the president of the Association for
the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Sanchez's trip will take her to at least a dozen countries. There's been
no word yet if her two-day stop in Washington, DC will include a visit
to the White House.

Other prominent Castro critics have already left Cuba to begin trips of
their own. One young dissident whose departure carried added symbolism
is Eliecer Avila, who was featured in a viral 2008 YouTube video that
showed him publicly challenging a top Cuban government official about
why young people couldn't travel.

Also now traveling is Rosa Maria Paya, the daughter of late Cuban
dissident Oswaldo Paya, who has accused the Castro government of
orchestrating the horrific car crash that killed her father last summer.
She departed on a trip for Chile that had been held up because the
government wouldn't give her an "exit permit" under the old rules.

As of Jan.14, Cubans no longer need government-issued permits to come
and go, only a valid passport and a visa from their destination country.

Restrictions still remain on some government and military officials, as
well as star athletes and top scientists. But Cuban authorities have
told many of the island's most prominent opposition figures they can now
travel. They include Berta Soler, leader of the "Ladies in White" group
that holds weekly marches through Havana, and Guillermo Farinas, winner
of the European Union's 2010 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

At home in Cuba, those figures face frequent harassment and constant
surveillance by authorities, but once abroad, they will be able to raise
funds and network with other activists beyond reach of Cuban state
security agents.

Yet even as some Castro opponents launch their trips abroad, others have
been told they're not going anywhere. Cuba's new travel laws include
exceedingly broad, vague language that allows the government to deny a
passport to someone "for reasons of public interest," and several
dissidents say they've been turned down.

Some are unable to leave because they remain on probation, having been
freed from prison in the past few years through the intervention of the
Catholic Church. The new travel policy bars Cubans who have pending
criminal charges or who are on parole from receiving passports.

That has left dissident economist and former political prisoner Oscar
Espinosa Chepe, 72, in a bind. He's been hospitalized several times in
the past year as a result of failing health, and he's now wondering if
the government will let him go abroad to seek additional treatment. His
parole isn't up until 2023, he said, and he and his wife, fellow
activist Miriam Leiva, have yet to apply for new passports.

Still, Espinosa Chepe said he didn't think the government would be hurt
by additional public criticism from other dissidents traveling abroad.
"The government has made an intelligent move. It's trying to convey a
message of openness," he said. "It remains an authoritarian system, but
I think it's making positive steps with an eye on improving relations
with the US."

Asked whether his inability to leave Cuba has blunted his message over
the years, Espinosa Chepe said he didn't think so, noting that he
frequently conducts interviews by phone, and has even participated in
international academic conferences remotely. "I've said everything I've
wanted to say," he added. Continue reading
Cuban hunger strikers granted asylum
Published on April 3, 2013
By Caribbean News Now contributor

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands -- Just days after photographs
of four Cuban refugees detained in the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI)
appeared in the media with their mouths sewn up as part of a hunger
strike protest, three of the four have been granted asylum, along with a
Colombian national.

Immigration Minister Don-Hue Gardiner
However, according to Minister of Immigration Don-Hue Gardiner, this is
not as a result of their protest.

Gardiner said that he received a response from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the asylum applications of five of
the detainees.

"As a result of those reports the ministry of border control has made a
decision to grant asylum following the recommendation of the UNHCR to
three of the Cubans. Those three together with a national of Colombia
were granted asylum, refugee status," Gardiner said.

They were accordingly granted leave to enter the TCI and also permission
to work in the territory.

Two other detainees who were refused asylum may appeal the refusals to
the UNHCR.

Gardiner was at pains to emphasise that the asylum requests were not
approved because of the Cubans' hunger strike protest.

He said, "The TCI government does not lend itself to be swayed by those
kinds of activities; we look to the facts that we've been given and we
take the decision based on those facts. It is coincidental only that the
reports from the UNHCR were received on the same day of last Friday
before these actions, and so they are in no way as a result of these
actions." Continue reading
Cuba to Lose Oil "Freebie", repeats Capriles
April 1, 2013

HAVANA TIMES (dpa) — Venezuelan presidential candidate Henrique Capriles
said today that if elected on April 14th he would stop "giving away" oil
to Cuba, alleging that this is what the current government does.

"We won't give any more oil to Mr. Castro, it's as simple as that," said
Capriles at a press conference.

Capriles said that after defeating the "candidate of the Castro
brothers" (acting President Nicolas Maduro), he would end the
controversial agreements with Cuba that allow the island to buy
Venezuelan oil on preferential terms.

"That's what I've said, and I repeat, we're going to beat the other
candidate. His mentor (Maduro's), his boss is Raul Castro, and everyday
resources to finance the government of Mr. Castro leave here. We're not
going to continue funding them," said the candidate of the opposition
alliance "Mesa de la Unidad Democratica" (MUD).

Capriles, who lost the presidential elections on October 7 to the late
President Hugo Chavez (55%-44%), said: "Nicolas Maduro is the guarantee
for the Castro brothers. I'm the guarantee for Venezuelans."

The opposition candidate promised that his government would use oil
revenues to increase the minimum wage by 40 percent, create a program of
"Zero Hunger," and encourage the creation of new jobs in the private
sector and increase pensions for retirees. Continue reading
Cuba and the United States: Time to lean forward
Published: April 2, 2013 Updated 2 hours ago
By Edward T. Walsh

New Secretary of State John Kerry must decide within a few weeks whether
to recommend to President Obama that Cuba be removed from the list of
state sponsors of terrorism. Such a collection currently includes Iran,
Syria and Sudan.

Cuba has been on this list since 1982 and has been under the weight of a
51-year U.S. economic embargo. Removal from the list of state sponsors
of terrorism would not impact the status of the embargo and the current
trade and travel restrictions it imposes.

It is my strong conviction that the time is right for Secretary Kerry to
advocate for the removal of Cuba from this list of state sponsors of

Inclusion on this list has little to do with any realistic threat by
Cuba to the United States or any other country. In addition, the list
has become so politicized as to be useless. With North Korea having been
removed from this list in 2008 and Pakistan, the hiding place of Osama
bin Laden, never being put on the list due to its strategic importance
to the United States, the argument for removing Cuba seems stronger than

Cuba is changing. Cuban citizens can own their own property and houses,
purchase automobiles, and own their own businesses. And in recent weeks,
Cubans are being allowed to apply for a passport and freely travel abroad.

We are all aware that there remains much more change that needs to come
to Cuba regarding freedoms we here in the U.S. too often fail to appreciate.

However, the current U.S. policy of isolation and confrontation has done
nothing to bring change to Cuba. Instead, we find that in the family of
nations, when it comes to Cuba, we are the ones who are isolated. It is
past time for a policy of constructive engagement.

The Latin American Working Group in Washington lists the following
reasons that Cuba should be removed from the U.S. list of terrorist nations:

• Cuba is not a state sponsor of terrorism. State sponsors of terrorism
are governments that provide logistical, financial or political support
to groups that carry out terrorist attacks on civilians. Cuba does not!

• Cuba has made international commitments to combat terrorism. Cuba has
ratified all 12 international conventions, and Cuba has offered to sign
a bilateral agreement with the United States on counterterrorism.

• Cuba is a sponsor of the Colombian peace talks. Cuba is playing a
constructive, mediating role in peace talks between FARC guerrillas and
the Colombian government.

• Cuba collaborates with the United States in counter-drug efforts.
Together, we interdict narco shipments in the Caribbean, and the U.S.
government acknowledges, even lauds, this cooperation.

• Keeping Cuba on the list weakens the credibility of the entire list
while removing Cuba from the terrorist list would send a positive signal
to all Latin American governments…and could well improve the image of
the United States in the Western Hemisphere.

Today's Cuba is faltering, and it struggles to feed its own population.
Now is the time for the United States to take the high road. Now is the
time to take one small step toward healing an old wound that some in
Washington prefer to keep festering for their own political and
financial greed.

When it comes to the U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba, let's lean
forward. Remove Cuba from the terrorist nations list.

Edward T. Walsh, a former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of
Johnston County, has been traveling to Cuba for 20 years and works with
three colleges on study abroad programs in Cuba. Continue reading
Who Is Yoani Sánchez? Famous Blogger Touring the US
April 2, 2013

Some call her a "rockstar", others say she's the most famous Cuban not
named Castro.

In February, renowned dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez left the island
for the first time in 12 years, setting off on a worldwide speaking tour
after the government changed its travel policy and issued her a
passport. This week, Sánchez is in Miami, the city with the largest
concentration of Cubans outside of the island.

Sánchez, who runs a blog critical of the Cuban government called
Generación Y, has traveled to Europe, Latin America, New York,
Washington D.C., and now Miami as part of her on-going 80-day trip.
Despite past efforts from the government to censor her dissent, her blog
is circulated on the internet in 20 languages and she has a Twitter
following of over 460,000 users.

Accusing her government of lacking transparency, stifling free speech,
and being out-of-touch, Sánchez's brand of commentary would be utterly
conventional in a country like the U.S.. But, Sánchez has become famous
worldwide for being a critic in a communist dictatorship, where free
speech protections are much more tenuous, even being named one of TIME
Magazine's 100 most influential people in 2008. Her innovative use of
new technologies to skirt Cuban authorities has also contributed to her

Although the 37-year old blogger has been met by many supporters during
her tour, receiving honors including the Miami Dade College Presidential
Medal and the Florida International University Medallion of Courage, she
has also been pursued by outspoken critics.

As Sánchez entered an auditorium on Monday in Miami to an adoring crowd
chanting "libertad" which means "freedom," one man shouted "mentira,"
("lie") before being silenced by the crowd.

In Brazil, for example, a gaggle of about 20 protesters met her at the
airport, holding banners and chanting "Viva Fidel" and "Yoani, sold to
the Yankees." Detractors also accuse the blogger of being a secret
employee of the CIA, due to her outspoken critique of communism and the

Sánchez says that she is thankful for her critics, because dissent is
something that is stifled in her country.

"I really enjoyed [the protesters in Brazil], because it allowed me to
say that I dream that 'one day people in my country will be able to
express themselves against something publicly like this, without
reprisals,'" she wrote on her blog.

Jorge Dominguez, a Cuba expert at Harvard University told the Miami
Herald, that while Sánchez is controversial, she does not represent a
particular movement within the island.

"She's a very good writer, a very smart blogger but she doesn't
represent a political movement,'' Dominguez said. "She has behaved for
the most part as a journalist. The closest thing we might have in the
United States would be an op-ed writer.''

During her trip she has also met with Ricardo Zúñiga, presidential
advisor for the Western Hemisphere at the White House, as well as
Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Upon her arrival in Miami last week, Sánchez told the New York Times
that she was very content being in the city, which is marked by its
large Cuban population.

"Me siento como en Cuba pero libre,"she said. "I feel like I'm in Cuba
but free."

As part of her trip, Yoani Sánchez will be participating in a
live-streaming "Tweet Up" event in Miami, co-organized by ABC/Univision.
You can watch live right here on ABC/Univision as well as follow on
Twitter and send in questions through the hashtag #AskYoani, on
Wednesday, April 3rd at 12:30 PM EST. Continue reading
Agence France-Presse April 2, 2013 19:00

Cuba gears up for first free trade industry zone

Cuba on Tuesday unveiled rules for its first free trade manufacturing
zone, a vast $900 million project being paid for mostly by Brazil in the
port of Mariel near Havana.

The Mariel Special Development Zone, a major trial balloon being floated
by President Raul Castro's communist government, is slated to feature
manufacturing operations both for export and for the Cuban market, as
well as a megaport that would take over shipping now done in Havana.

The government on Tuesday published a legal decree in the Official
Gazette detailing rules for the area and its operations.

Brazilian multinational Odebrecht is handling the infrastructure on the
project, and Brazil is providing $640 million in financing, with Cuba
handling the rest.

Castro, 81, has taken steps to modernize some elements of the economy,
such as trimming state payrolls and allowing more types of
self-employment, but the state remains firmly in control of most
economic activity.

It was not immediately clear when manufacturing in the new free trade
zone would begin, but some port operations will start this month.

rd/mdl/jk Continue reading
The Danger of Dependence: Cuba's Foreign Policy After Chavez
By William M. LeoGrande, on 02 Apr 2013, Feature

On March 8 in Caracas, Raúl Castro, looking somber, stood in a place of
honor beside Hugo Chávez's casket during the late Venezuelan president's
state funeral. Castro was no doubt pondering what Chávez's death means
for Cuba's ambitious economic reform program -- or "updating" of the
economic model, as Cubans prefer to call it. Not long after Chávez's
first election victory in 1998, he and Fidel Castro signed the first of
what would become more than 100 bilateral cooperation agreements. By the
time Chávez died, Venezuela was providing Cuba with some 110,000 barrels
of oil daily at subsidized prices, worth $4 billion annually and
representing two-thirds of Cuba's domestic oil consumption. In exchange,
Cuba provided some 40,000 skilled professionals, working mostly in
health, enabling Chávez to extend health care into the poor barrios of
Venezuela, thereby solidifying his political base.

With the Venezuelan economy foundering under a huge fiscal deficit, will
Chávez's successor continue this barter arrangement on the same
preferential terms? If not, will the resulting oil shock derail Raúl
Castro's plan to move Cuba from a hyper-centralized planned economy,
which even its architect Fidel Castro admitted no longer works, to a
socialist market economy modeled on Vietnam and China? ..." Continue reading
Haunted by cancer after Cuba's Black Spring
By Alfredo Felipe Fuentes/ CPJ Guest Blogger

As the world welcomes celebrated Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez on her
first international tour in a decade, we must also remember journalist
Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, who continues to be confined not only to
the island nation, but to a prison cell in Havana Province.

Martínez, a reporter for the independent news agency Centro de
Información Hablemos Press, was imprisoned in September after he started
looking into why an international shipment of medicine was allowed to go
bad, according to news reports. The journalist, who has been on
intermittent hunger strikes over the course of the past few months,
described in a telephone conversation with Hablemos Press last year the
inhumane conditions he faces in prison. Cases like that of Calixto are
a troubling counterbalance to reforms the authorities have announced in
recent years, and recall the Black Spring, one of the darkest episodes
in recent Cuban history, and my own experience as a prisoner of conscience.

Six months before the Castro government freed me from prison and
deported me to Spain in October, 2010, I found a cyst on my neck. I
turned to the prison authorities and the jail doctor, who, after
examining the small lump, told me it was probably an inflamed or
necrotic ganglion, but nothing to worry about. This was without even
ordering an ultrasound to look for elements that might have contradicted
his rushed diagnosis.

Months later, while still in prison, I managed to have a specialist
examine me, but he only reproduced the same irresponsible conclusion and
attitude of the previous doctor.

For my part, as a believer in science and the Hippocratic Oath, I
dismissed my concern and confidently continued my life as a prisoner of

But in February 2012, after having lived some time in Spain, I arrived
in the United States, where I began to worry again about the cyst due to
its insistent presence. Moreover, it had started to increase in size. I
went to a doctor who ordered various imaging exams with the latest

As a result of those exams, the specialist ordered immediate surgery in
order to remove the cyst.

A week after the surgery, I went for a follow-up visit with the
specialist, who informed me that the tissue removed from my neck had
been sent to pathology and that the tests indicated, without a doubt,

I had to face then, all of a sudden, that most dreaded word: Cancer.

After undergoing surgery, I am now going through radiation and
chemotherapy, which though the most effective treatment for cancer, also
implies a serious decrease in quality of life.

It is in this situation that I find myself today, with severe
limitations for my work; except for writing in days of grace.

I thank my doctors in the United States, my relatives and brothers in
exile for their constant concern and support. I especially thank my wife
Loyda Valdés, who as in her magnificent time with the Ladies in White in
Cuba, has not left me for a second and toils, with love, so that my
treatment and recovery are strictly implemented.

My case, in the sense that it was not acted upon in time, constitutes
another example of the mediocrity of the Cuban "medical power." But
without forgetting the already mentioned negligence and laziness of the
doctors who examined me in prison, what I truly attribute my cancer and
its consequences to are my seven years of unjust incarceration and its
sustained stress. I attribute it to the Cuban Black Spring.
Alfredo Felipe Fuentes, an economist by training, began working for the
Cuban independent press in 1991. He was given 26 years in prison in 2003
for violating Article 91 of the Cuban penal code and acting against "the
independence or the territorial integrity of the state." Continue reading
Cuba's CTC Union Chooses Its Side
April 2, 2013
Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES — "United for a Prosperous and Sustainable Socialism" is
the motto under which the "Cuban Workers Federation" (Central de
Trabajadores de Cuba, or CTC) will convene this coming May Day (surely
it's a more optimistic slogan than "Work Hard!").

The official motto covered the front pages of several newspapers as the
organization exhorted us to participate in the materialization of the
guidelines of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC).

Could we expect any another position from the CTC? That would be naive.

In the past five decades, the Cuban Workers Union has added to its sad
list of acts of disloyalty, a list that includes the prohibition of
other unions, employment records used for blacklisting, denial of the
right to strike, and its support of the 2008 Social Security Act (which
added five years to the retirement age).

Then, in just over 13 months, the CTC has changed its line.

In 2012, with the wave of dismissals based on "demonstrated suitability"
and supported by the union, it called on workers to participate in and
discuss work plans and the budget (see Bohemia magazine, in Spanish).

At this time, possibly thanks to its passive attitude taken in the face
of mass layoffs, the main union in the country chooses to keep its
members disempowered rather than to promote their participation in
workplace decision-making.

Carmen Rosa Lopez

This was corroborated by the new top union official Carmen Rosa Lopez,
who said, "It's clear that the workers don't approve the plan, but
they'll contribute to fulfilling it with their labor" (see Trabajadores
newspaper, in Spanish).

The statements by the new leader of the CTC didn't stop there, as Lopez
takes the opportunity to highlight the attitude of the organization's
leading administrators. She explained that the role of the trade union
movement is to mobilize workers around the main tasks of the country.

This is a position that dispels any doubt about the possible
participation and involvement of Cuban workers in the "updating of

The wearing of masks has grown old. What's becoming clearer is a more
realistic picture of the only organization that can legally represent
the island's workforce. It can be seen as one that's halfway between a
dues collection box and a puppet theater where the management pulls all
the strings.

So what can be done in the face of such visceral but forgotten problems
as rising unemployment, underemployment and token wages? What can be
done to prevent very likely exploitation of Cuban laborers – this time
by multinational corporations, for which the government will open the doors?

The CTC is choosing its side, but the workers aren't on it. Belonging to
the union's ranks only serves to give it credit at the international level.

What's required now is the establishment of new mechanisms of
information and communication between those who work for the government
and between the self-employed.

What are needed are new unions capable of fighting for workers' demands
rather than bowing their heads, agreeing and obeying. Continue reading
Posted on Tuesday, 04.02.13

I am Cuban and American — y más
By Fabiola Santiago

Somos cubanos y punto." We, those in exile and on the island, are all
Cubans — period.

With those reconciliatory words and many more that acknowledged the
worth, strength and dignity — yes, dignity, the quality most stripped
from us by our enemies and detractors, and regretfully sometimes, by our
own hand — Yoani Sánchez soothed our cherished exile wound, the loss of
our native country.

The celebrated 37-year-old writer read heartfelt words and answered
questions with a calibrated mix of candor and (perhaps necessary)
evasiveness at the Freedom Tower — for so many in my generation "El
Refugio." For me, it was the place where on the bright autumn day in
1969 when I arrived from Cuba, a bewildered 10-year-old sad to leave
loved ones behind, I was shown kindness in a gift from American
volunteers, a sweet homemade ragdoll.

The tower where Cuban refugees were once processed and, earlier, The
Miami News published set the tone for a day that measured not only our
own but Miami's maturity as Sánchez addressed a joyous and
multigenerational crowd, mostly Cuban but with notable local non-Cubans
in attendance.

Her audience included historic figures like Huber Matos, a commander in
the early days of the Cuban Revolution who was sent to prison when he
voiced disagreement with Fidel Castro's totalitarian turn, and a group
of Brigade 2506 veterans of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, one of the
first efforts to oust Castro.

In times when skepticism would have been the safer route, the respect
and encouragement with which Matos and Brigade veterans treated Sánchez,
who holds policy views opposite to theirs, elevated the gathering. I was
moved by their presence and applause — and later, during a press
conference, by the sight of the elder Matos walking up to the stage to
meet Sánchez, who broke from protocol to greet him.

In the packed, stately hall also was the new Cuban Miami, personified in
Sánchez's pharmacist sister and historian brother-in-law, who emigrated
two years ago, as well as a mosaic of other recent arrivals, some of
them so emotion-filled with Sánchez's sharp criticism of the Cuban
government that they shouted, " ¡Yoani, la presidenta!"

It's not that there was on this Monday afternoon that elusive so-called
unity — a concept that sounds idyllic on paper, but in practical terms
requires some people to conform to the opinions of others. It's that
what reigned was pluralism — a variety of experiences and beliefs
embodied in people of different generations not only in age, but
journeys — and despite some grumblings of displeasure (we still haven't
learned that journalists in a free society ask hard questions and we're
the better for it), there was respect for different points of view.

We, those in exile and on the island, are all Cubans — period.

Words and thoughts that the agile blogger and Twitter maven said she had
pondered for most of her life, but hadn't put on paper until her Miami
presentation loomed near.

Words that flowed with ease after a visit to La Ermita de la Caridad,
the shrine to Cuba's patron saint built with exile donations and flanked
by an oceanfront seawall reminiscent of Havana's, and after encounters
such as her meeting with singer/composer Willy Chirino, who has
chronicled the aches and glories of exile in festive salsa tunes.

"Our diaspora, our exile, is conserving Cuba outside of Cuba," she
wrote. ". . . I'm rediscovering my own country in each of these Cubans
dispersed around the world.

"When I confirm what they have really accomplished, the contrast with
what official propaganda tells me about them leaves me with an enormous
sadness for my country. For all this human wealth that we have lost, for
all this talent that has had to wash up outside our borders and for all
the seeds that have germinated in other lands.

"How did we allow one ideology, one party, one man, to have felt the
'divine' power to decide who could or could not carry the adjective
'Cuban' "?

I love the spirit of her inclusive words and admire the courage it took
— for a person who will be returning to Cuba — to say them.

But my identity has never been defined by the Cuban government, nor by
its decrees, and certainly won't now with its weak reforms.

Despite our never-ending exile, or perhaps because of it, I am Cuban and
will die Cuban. A piece of Cuba, the real and the mythological, indeed
came with us in our metaphorical luggage, and every exodus brought
another layer of the island to me.

But I'm not a "Cuban — period."

My identity embraces the expanded family I now have, the country where
I've lived most of my life, the city where I belong. My dead are buried
here. My children and grandchildren were born in this land I love as
dearly as Cuba.

I am Cuban, but I am also American, and my Americanness is both refuge
and shield against the fanaticism that put a country's fate in one man's
hands for five decades and counting.

It's an added part that doesn't lessen the Cuban but pays tribute to
that day in October at El Refugio and to the safe haven my parents built
when they made that fateful, heart-wrenching decision to pluck their
children from a society ruled by dogma to give them what Jose Martí
described as "roots and wings."

No end points for me.

Somos cubanos y más.

Read more here: Continue reading
Posted on Tuesday, 04.02.13

Blogger Yoani Sánchez hits the books at the University of Miami

Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez spent several hours on the University of
Miami campus Tuesday, learning how to access the university's digital
collection on the Cuban experience and diaspora and holding a political
discussion with UM academics.

She was scheduled to speak Tuesday evening at a dinner at the Country
Club of Coral Gables hosted by the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba,
which is associated with the Cuban-American National Foundation.

UM President Donna Shalala welcomed Sanchez to the campus and the Cuban
Heritage Collection, which houses more than 50,000 Cuba-related books
and documents. Among the rare items that she explored was the 1878
biography of Father Felix Varela, a Roman Catholic priest and educator
who advocated for self-rule and the end of slavery in Cuba. A public
high school in the Hammocks section of Miami-Dade County is named for
the Cuban priest, who is highly esteemed in the Cuban community.

Sánchez requested to visit the Cuban Heritage Collection, according to
the university, and CHC Director Esperanza de Varona and Maria Estorino,
an associate librarian, gave her a personal tour of the collection,
which is housed on the second floor of the Otto Richter Library.

While at the collection, Sánchez met with representatives from the
campus chapter of the Federation of Cuban Students. She told them:
"Information to me is like a breath of fresh air.''

She also met privately with about 20 academics at the Institute for
Cuban & Cuban-American Studies, a UM research center that is engaged in
the Cuban Transition Project, which studies and makes recommendations
for the reconstruction of Cuba "once the post-Castro transition begins
in earnest.''

Among the topics discussed were the future of Cuba, how Sánchez sees
change evolving in Cuba, the case of imprisoned American Alan Gross,
Cuban youth, and how to improve the flow of information into Cuba, said
Andy Gomez, a senior fellow at the institute.

Asked if she saw herself as a future opposition leader in Cuba, Gomez
said that she responded, "No, I see myself as a citizen of Cuba who has
the responsibility to bring about change.''

"With Yoani's visit, we've consolidated the bridge between Cuban exiles
and the people of Cuba,'' said Gomez, who said that even a decade ago
such ties would have been impossible.

"She was honest, eloquent, simple,'' said Gomez, "but she's exhausted.''

Since leaving Cuba Feb. 17, Sánchez — who writes the Generacion Y blog
and sends out a constant stream of 140-character Twitter messages on
daily life in Cuba to hundreds of thousands of followers — has been on
an international tour that has taken her from Brazil to Mexico and from
Prague and Amsterdam to New York and Washington.

Despite many international invitations, she had not been able to travel
abroad until a recent change in Cuban travel policy.

Sánchez will host a town-hall-style meeting at the Adrienne Arsht Center
for the Performing Arts in Miami on Wednesday, taking questions posed
via Twitter and from people in the audience.

She will focus on questions regarding technology, innovation and social
change from Twitter users, although audience members can ask "questions
regarding topics of importance,'' according to event organizers.

Pamela Silva Conde, co-anchor of Univision's news show Primer Impacto
(First Impact), will moderate the event, which begins at noon. It's
organized by The Knight Foundation and Roots of Hope, a group whose goal
is bridging the gap between Cubans abroad and those on the island.

Twitter questions can be directed to @askyoani, @PamelaSilva and by
using the hashtags #AskYoani and #YoaniResponde.

The "Tweet Up with Yoani Sánchez" is a ticketed event but tickets are
free of charge. To register, visit

Miami Herald Reporter Daniel Chang contributed to this report.

Read more here: Continue reading
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